Why I Wrote a Children's Book About Postpartum Depression
After the birth of her first child, Jessica Wendi Abel experienced debilitating depression and anxiety
She has since written a children's book to help families have open conversations about postpartum depression
We have therapists who specialise in working around issues related to fertility, pregnancy and birth – find them here
When a pregnant person is asked how they feel, what’s the likelihood they’ll talk about their depression? Before having my first baby, people asked me all the time how I was doing. They expected me to talk about the physical symptoms of pregnancy. One day, a woman at my job sweetly asked this question and I decided to be honest. I told her that pregnancy made me feel awful, both physically and emotionally. Her face stiffened with disapproval. “It’s not good to talk like that. The baby knows how you feel.” I asked if she could kindly refer me to the research she was quoting. She could not but as it turns out, a 2013 study by Rebecca M. Pearson, PhD, Jonathan Evans, MD, and Daphne Kounali, PhD found that a mother’s depression during pregnancy was a risk factor for offspring depression.
When I had my first baby, people were wildly interested in how he ate and slept. No one seemed interested in how I was doing. By this point, I learned to give the answers people expected of mothers. I lied to friends and family when they remarked, “You must be so proud.” I stopped being able to connect. Nothing my husband or mother said was helpful. I knew that I was supposed to feel an abundance of love for the new tiny human my body created. The truth, and what I thought nobody wanted to hear, was that I hated being a mother because it caused me to have the most intense depression and anxiety of my life. I felt completely alone in my situation.
After six long months of feeling hopeless, I began attending a weekly postpartum support group. I saw for the first time after having a baby that I was not alone. It was a major turning point. Finally, I found a place where mothers could openly discuss their emotional pain without judgment. I began researching other postpartum support options and therapists who specialised in this area. I learned that one in seven women will experience postpartum depression (PPD). With such an alarming statistic, why was it a shock when it happened to me?
Brooke Shields, an American actress who wrote a book about her postpartum depression, was the one person I could associate with PPD while I was growing up. She had a positive outcome. The other examples I incorrectly associated with PPD made the evening news: mothers who took their children’s lives due to untreated postpartum psychosis. Postpartum depression is the most common mental health complication of pregnancy whereas postpartum psychosis is a rare illness that occurs in approximately 0.1 - 0.2% of births. With so many women impacted by PPD, it’s surprising how few examples I could reference when I was in my twenties and early thirties.
Cheryl Beck created a list of thirteen postpartum depression indicators to help identify women who are more at risk for developing depression during or after pregnancy. Two of these predictors include having inadequate support and poor marital relationships. After having our first baby, my husband took care of a newborn and a wife I was one of the lucky ones with a good support system.
Going into my second pregnancy, my mindset had totally changed. I spent five years researching postpartum depression and anxiety to prepare for the possibility I might experience it again. This research taught me that a personal history of PPD does increase a person’s risk of recurrence. As a result, I got myself into therapy while I was still pregnant and I set myself up for postpartum support groups in advance. I also decided I would never again repress talking about my experiences.
Going through PPD profoundly impacted my life. It was the reason I almost didn’t have a second child. It’s also the reason I spent the better part of a year developing a children’s picture book on postpartum depression.
When I was nine months pregnant with my second, I was fearful of being at a loss for words in helping my five-year old understand postpartum depression, if it happened again (it did). I tried to find a picture book resource to help me navigate these conversations with my family. I wrote The Little Blue Rocket Ship: A Story About Postpartum Depression to support families that want to communicate about PPD/PPA.
Postpartum depression impacts entire families. It cuts across age, race, culture and income levels. In order to adequately support maternal mental health, there needs to be more exposure, more representation, and more family-friendly resources. Raising children while managing the mental health needs of exhausted adults can seem like an impossible task some days.
I hope that by the time my sons grow up, discussions about maternal and paternal mental health will be commonplace. Until then, please seek out the support you need. Normalise talking about mental health struggles. Allow a pregnant person the opportunity to open up about their depression. And the next time someone has a baby, ask how the adults are doing first.
Jessica Wendi Abel is the author of The Little Blue Rocket Ship: A Story About Postpartum Depression. Click here to purchase her book.